CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield County Sheriff and staff members say more needs to be done to address mental health systems in the county and across the Commonwealth.
In a recent statement, Chesterfield County Sheriff, Karl Leonard, called out what he called a broken mental health system, weighing on his staff and deputies along with others across the Commonwealth.
8News sat down with Leonard to discuss what concerns he and his staff are experiencing.
“I’m tired of jails being the the repository for people who are suffering from mental health conditions because we don’t have adequate care for the care for them anywhere else in our communities,” said Leonard.
In his online statement, Leonard emphasized a similar message shared by Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey Katz in March of 2022. While the conversation about mental health issues is nothing new, Leonard says his staff and deputies have seen an uptick in people experiencing a mental health crisis being sent to jail.
“I think the system is broken,” said Kerri Rhodes, Director of Behavior and Mental Health for the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Leonard says some inmates have waited days and even weeks to receive mental health care because there are no beds at nearby hospitals. In turn, those experiencing a mental health crisis are housed at the jail and overseen by a deputy.
“We’ve got to address it now,” said Leonard.
Currently, there is one psychiatrist and four mental health clinicians in the jail for a population of 350 inmates. When people experiencing a mental health crisis are not able to receive the care they need from a hospital, Leonard says his team is forced to act as mental health professionals.
“We’re not a treatment center, but we’re having to try to function like one to really support these folks,” said Rhodes.
Despite receiving a grant to improve mental health in the jail. Staff members tell 8News behaviors behind bars can escalate quickly leading to people either harming themselves or others.
“These are people that need help. They’re somebody’s children or somebody’s husband. They deserve help,” said Rhodes. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. And it’s not about pointing fingers, because we just need help.”
Leonard is calling on state and federal leaders to provide more funding, resources and facilities to meet the need. In addition, staff members tell 8News getting ahead of the problem by addressing mental health and drug use in schools is important.